In contrast to sensory cortical areas of the brain, the relevant physiological inputs to the hippocampus, leading to selective activation of pyramidal cells, are largely unknown. Pyramidal cells are thought to be phasically activated by spatial cues and a variety of sensory and motor stimuli. Here, we used a behavioural 'space clamp' method, which involved the confinement of the actively running animal in a defined position in space (running wheel) and kept sensory inputs constant. Twelve percent of the recorded CA1 pyramidal cells were selectively active while the rat was running in the wheel. Cell firing was specific to the direction of running and disappeared after rotating the recording apparatus. The discharge frequency of pyramidal cells and interneurons was sustained as long as the rat ran continuously in the wheel. Furthermore, the discharge frequency of pyramidal cells and interneurons increased with increasing running velocity, even though the frequency of hippocampal theta waves remained constant. The discharge frequency of some 'wheel-related' pyramidal cells could increase more than 10-fold between 10 and 100 cm/s, whereas the firing rate of 'non-wheel' cells remained constantly low. We hypothesize that: (i) a necessary condition for place-specific discharge of hippocampal pyramidal cells is the presence of theta oscillation; and (ii) relevant stimuli can tonically and selectively activate hippocampal pyramidal cells as long as theta activity is present.